French government pledges two billion euros to restive Brittany

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (R) and Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll at a meeting with Breton dignitaries in October
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (R) and Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll at a meeting with Breton dignitaries in October AFP/Bertrand Guay

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has signed an agreement to invest two billion euros in Brittany, the western region that has been hit by a wave of job losses and protests against a planned tax on road freight. The deal is not good enough for leaders of recent protests against the ecotax and right-wing politicians boycotted the signing ceremony.


Although it is by no means the poorest region in France, Brittany has been hit by a number of factory closures and business failures this year, particularly linked to a crisis in its intensive agriculture and food-processing industry, which have been hit by competition from abroad and the effects of economic crisis.

Parliamentary elections 2012

Last month the region, which has a long tradition of Breton nationalism and resentment of Paris's domination of French administration, was the spearhead of protests against an ecotax, brought in by the last government with all-party support and due to come into operation next year.

Ayrault suspended its implementation after October's protests and went on to promise an overhaul of France's entire tax system.

The government's Pact for the Future for Brittany promises two million euros in aid to help workers declared redundant, restructure agriculture to make it more environmentally friendly and boost the region's economy.

But not all the intitiatives are new, leading the Bonnets rouges (red caps) movement, born during the ecotax protests, to claim that it is just a "piling up" of already existing measures and denounce an "intellectual fraud" imposed by "Parisian technostructures".

They will hold their own conference on the region in February, they said.

Although a narrow majority of elected representatives in the region endorsed the package, right-wing and centrist MPs and councillors opposed it and boycotted Friday's signing ceremony.

The trade union movement was split, with two federations, Force Ouvrière and Sud, calling for a demonstration against it, while four others, including the influential CGT and CFDT, giving a cautious welcome.

"We’re glad that this pact has been signed," CFDT representative Jean-Luc Feuillant told RFI. "At one point, we were critical, but we kept negotiating. Now, the idea is that businesses and unions should use that pact to give new impetus to the Breton economy."

The unions have called for words to be turned into deeds on jobs.

"It’s up to companies to evolve and move towards more training, more exports and more innovation," Feuillant said. "If businesses don't want to act, the state won't decide for them. The money will be used for the reorientation of companies. You know what? You can’t be against taxes and at the same time ask for state funding."

Ayrault also announced the government's intention to adopt a new reform on decentralisation that would give more power to the region.

And France should finally ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, as promised during President François Hollande's election campaign, he said.

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